Much-branched, prostrate or erect shrub, to 1m. Leaves 0.3-1.2(-1.4) x 0.2-0.7 cm, narrowly elliptic to rotund, apex acute to rounded, strongly mucronate, lower surface covered with overlapping scales, the majority of which are pale gold to reddish brown, usually with few to many darker scales. Flowers 1-3 per inflorescence; calyx 0.5-3 mm, lobes often unequal deltoid to rounded; corolla lavender or rose-pink to purple, broadly funnel-shaped, scaly outside, 6-14 mm; stamens 10× as long as corolla; ovary scaly, style of varying length, glabrous or pubescent towards base. Royal Horticultural Society (1997)
Distribution China Yunnan, SW Sichuan
Habitat 2,500-5,000 m
RHS Hardiness Rating H5
Conservation status Least concern (LC)
Taxonomic note R. telmateium is allied to R. nivale but differs in the sparse covering of darker scales on the leaf undersurface. Royal Horticultural Society (1997)
An evergreen shrub of erect habit up to 3 ft high; young shoots very scurfy. Leaves elliptic-lanceolate, tapered about equally to both ends, 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 in. long, 1⁄10 to 3⁄16 in. wide, dull dark green above, pale brown below, very scaly on both sides; stalk 1⁄16 in. long. Flowers solitary, in pairs or threes, opening in April or May. Calyx about 1⁄16 in. long, scaly. Corolla widely funnel-shaped, 1⁄2 in. wide, five-lobed, rosy purple, the lobes more or less scaly up the centre outside. Stamens normally ten, sometimes less, downy towards the base. Ovary scaly; style glabrous, overtopping the stamens. (s. Lapponicum)
Native of S.W. Szechwan and bordering parts of Yunnan; discovered by Forrest and introduced by him from the Chungtien plateau in 1914. It belongs to a group of the Lapponicum series in which the undersides of the leaves have a close covering of brownish or greyish scales dotted with darker, larger, stalked scales. It is a very hardy species, suitable for the rock garden, but not among the best of the series.
A rhododendron scarcely differing from R. telmateium was found by Ludlow and Sherriff in a dry zone of the Tibetan Himalaya.
R. diacritum and R. drumonium, mentioned under this species, are included in it by the Philipsons; R. idoneum Balf.f. & W.W. Sm. is another synonym (Rev. Lapp., pp. 47-50). As now understood, the species is of wider range than stated, occurring in central Yunnan as well as in the northern and north-western parts of the province and bordering Szechwan. The leaves of R. telmateium are never much over 1⁄2 in. long and often only half that length, varying in shape from elliptic to almost orbicular. The species in variable in the length of the style, which may be longer or shorter than the stamens, or of about the same length. The scales of the undersides of the leaves are closely set, pale gold or light brown, usually with a scattering of darker scales. In common with many other members of the subsection it is variable in habit but usually erect in cultivated plants, to 2 or 3 ft. A well-marked character is that the leaves are always distinctly mucronate.
It was mentioned on page 783 that a rhododendron scarcely differing from R. telmateium was found by Ludlow and Sherriff. This was R. bulu Hutch., described from a specimen collected by Kingdon Ward in south-east Tibet. It is indeed very closely allied to R. telmateium, differing mainly in its longer leaves. It is not in cultivation.
R. pycnocladum Balf. f. & W. W. Sm